Boris Johnson insists ‘data NOT dates’ will dictate how lockdown rules are lifted

Lockdown: Plans suggest ‘rapid reopening of economy’ says expert

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A blueprint for easing Covid rules based on the latest scientific research is being drawn up over the next few days. Mr Johnson will spell out details on Monday, but signalled yesterday that socialising would be among the final activities to resume. During a visit to a vaccination centre in Cwmbran, South Wales, he insisted: “We need to go in stages. We need to go cautiously.

“Last year we opened up hospitality fully as one of the last things we did because there is obviously an extra risk of transmission.

“We’ll be setting out what we can on Monday about the way ahead and it’ll be based firmly on a cautious and prudent approach to coming out of lockdown in such a way to be irreversible.”

The Government is assessing how quickly it will allow households to mix indoors and when vacations can resume.

There have been claims that holiday lets could reopen for Easter but Mr Johnson said: “I know there’s a lot of understandable speculation about what we’re going to do, what we’re going to say and about the rates of infection and so on.

“I would just advise everybody just wait, we’ll try and say as much as we can on that.”

Another 738 virus deaths within 28 days of testing positive were reported yesterday, taking the UK total to 118,933.

There were an extra 12,718 lab-confirmed UK cases, pushing the overall toll to 4,071,185.

Mr Johnson said it was very encouraging that infection rates “are coming down a bit now”, but said further research was needed. He added: “I think one of the big questions people will want to ask is, to what extent now is that being driven by vaccination?

“We hope it is, there are some encouraging signs, but it’s still early days.”

NHS Providers, which represents hospital trusts, warned Mr Johnson not to ease lockdown until case rates fell below 50,000 – less than a tenth of the 695,400 people in England believed to have had Covid in the week ending February 6.

NHS Providers chief executive Chris Hopson said the nation was “still some way away” from relaxing curbs.

He has urged the Prime Minister to wait until cases and pressure on the NHS falls, the vaccine rollout is advanced and plans to control future outbreaks are in place.

Mr Hopson said: “If you look at where we are against those four tests, each one of them tells you that we’re still some way away from being able to start relaxing restrictions.

“We had 500 Covid patients in hospitals in September and yet 15 weeks later we had 34,000 and we were perilously close to being overwhelmed.

“So what that says to you is that you just need to be really careful before you start relaxing the restrictions prematurely.”

However, Professor Sir John Bell of Oxford University’s vaccine team warned against keeping tight restrictions once the country is protected.

He told the Commons’ science and technology committee: “It’s not plausible to imagine a world where we vaccinate the whole country and everybody believes they are still in a place we were in six months ago.” More testing will be carried out in parts of Norfolk, Southampton and Woking, Surrey, where the South African virus variant was found, and expanded in Manchester.

Mr Johnson wants to use rapid mass testing on top of the jab programme and Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab suggested the Government wanted to send out 400,000 lateral flow tests a day.

Mr Raab said the aim was to do it “at scale and at pace so that when you do have upticks of the virus, we can come down on it like a ton of bricks”.

He added: “We have got ambitious targets in relation to testing which we have met at various points, as well as the vaccine rollout. And we are absolutely doing everything we can to meet those targets.

“They are obviously designed to be challenging because we want to get people out of lockdown as soon as possible.

“The only way to do that is responsibly, safely.”

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